An aerial view of Lima's Malecón and Pacific coastline.

With so many things to do in Lima, you could spend days exploring Peru’s capital city. Lima is a bustling cosmopolitan center of art, culture, and cuisine. The weather is temperate and the ocean views are phenomenal. However, if your travels only allow for one day, you’ll still gain an appreciation of Limeño culture. Below we have selected ten of our favorite things to do in Lima. Continue reading for inspiration on how to spend your next trip.

*Cover photo by Aarom Ore on Unsplash.

Table of Contents:

  1. Museo Larco
  2. Culinary Tours
  3. Huaca Pucllana
  4. Historic Center of Lima
  5. Fine Dining
  6. Malecón
  7. Barranco Contemporary Art Museums
  8. Magic Water Circuit
  9. Monumental Callao
  10. Peruvian Paso Horse Show

1. Museo Larco

Regarded as one of the world’s top museums, Museo Larco (Larco Museum) holds an impressive collection of pre-Columbian artifacts. In total, the museum houses approximately 45,000 pieces and has the world’s largest collections of pre-Columbian Peruvian jewelry and erotic pottery. Thus, for history aficionados, a visit to Museo Larco is one of the most interesting things to do in Peru.

On a private tour, visitors can marvel at the many ancient Peruvian cultures’ tapestries, ceramics, and jewelry while learning about the symbolism and purpose of each piece. Visitors can also explore the museum’s storeroom which contains over 30,000 pieces of pottery. This is quite a treat as few of these are open to the public.

After exploring the museum, enjoy lunch at the Museo Larco Café and the views of its whimsical gardens. Bright red and magenta bougainvillea flowers sprawl across the white outer walls of the museum and pots of cacti and golden geraniums border the lower walls, creating a peaceful haven away from Lima’s lively streets.

The white painted front facade of Museo Larco and the museum's lush gardens. A Peruvian flag is flown on top of the museum.
Vibrant flowers line the entrance to Museo Larco. Photo by Museo Larco, Lima-Perú on Instagram.

Tip: Museo Larco is located midway between the Lima airport and the Miraflores district (~30 minutes from both destinations), making it an excellent excursion during long layovers.

2. Culinary Tours

For gourmets, a trip to Peru is worthwhile even if only to experience Lima’s culinary scene. Deemed the gastronomic capital of South America, Lima is home to some of the world’s top-rated restaurants where you can sample flavors from all parts of Peru.

An ideal way to experience Peruvian cuisine is through one of the many culinary tours in Lima, each geared toward a particular interest. Lima’s evening culinary tour offers a complete overview of Peruvian cuisine, including Amazonian fare and an elegant dinner amid pre-Inca ruins.

For a more hands-on approach, join a local chef at a traditional market and in the kitchen. Learn how to create Peruvian favorites like lomo saltado or ceviche. Or for something casual, try the Lima street food tour where you’ll be able to sample local favorites like picarones (Peruvian donuts), chicharrón (fried pork belly), and artisanal beers all the while learning about the fascinating history of central Lima.

A chef prepares ceviche during a Peruvian cooking class in Lima.
A chef demonstrating how to prepare ceviche. Photo by Exquisito Perú.

Tip: Inform your Travel Advisor of any food allergies and dietary restrictions prior to booking—all culinary tours are easily adaptable. For those travelers who follow a plant-based diet, we recommend the vegan Peruvian food tour.

3. Huaca Pucllana

In Peru, archaeological sites are not limited to the Cusco Region. In fact, a 1,500-year-old adobe and clay pyramid is located in the heart of Lima’s fashionable Miraflores district. Constructed by the Lima Culture around 500 CE, the Huaca Pucllana is urban Lima’s most iconic archaeological site. The Huaca Pucllana was used mainly for ritual purposes and as a forum for skilled workers and heads of government.

Guided tours of the Huaca Pucllana are offered both day and night, each with their own advantages. In the daytime, visitors have the opportunity to follow a path along the top of the pyramid and admire stunning views of the Miraflores and San Isidro districts. Comparatively, at nighttime, the site’s tasteful lighting creates an intimate ambiance.

The adobe and clay brick walls of urban Lima's most famous archaeological site, Huaca Pucllana.
The foundation of Huaca Pucllana’s main pyramid. Photo by Michael Wieck.

For an elegant dining experience, we highly recommend the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant which is located just outside the ruins. Make sure to request a table in the outdoor seating area, which offers astounding views during any meal. After all, it’s not every day that you have the opportunity to dine alongside an ancient archaeological complex.

4. Historic Center of Lima

Immerse yourself in Lima’s rich history with a Lima city tour focused on the historic center. Founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, the city of Lima has since grown to be the political and financial epicenter of Peru.

Located about 30–45 minutes from Miraflores, Lima’s historic center has a distinct atmosphere in comparison with the city’s coastal districts. Mustard yellow colonial buildings border two sides of the Plaza de Armas and similarly dot the surrounding area of Lima downtown, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Within walking distance from the Plaza de Armas are several of the top tourist spots in Peru. The government palace is located on the northern side of the plaza. Originally inhabited by Francisco Pizarro, this imposing, Neo-Baroque style building is now the official residence for acting Peruvian presidents. While visitors cannot enter the building, the Changing of the Guard can be observed daily at noon.

Lima's palm tree lined Plaza de Armas. The government palace is in the far background.
Lima’s Plaza de Armas and government palace. Photo by Adriana Proaño.

On the eastern side of the plaza lies the Lima Cathedral which is open to visitors and houses Francisco Pizarro’s tomb. And just two blocks away is the San Francisco Church. Its peaceful cloisters and courtyard are a highlight, as is its library which holds 25,000 antique books. Additionally, visitors can explore the church’s catacombs where members of the colonial aristocracy rest.

5. Fine Dining

Lima is famous for its recent gastronomic boom resulting in innovative restaurants heavily influenced by Peruvian culture. In fact, two of the world’s top ten restaurants are located in Lima.

Central Restaurante certainly lives up to expectations as the sixth-best restaurant in the world. Chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz has carefully created tasting menus with twelve and sixteen courses, the ingredients of each plate sourced from a different ecosystem and elevation. Delight in experimental medleys created with ingredients from the Pacific Ocean, Amazon Rainforest, and high Andes Mountains.

Maido, the tenth best restaurant in the world, specializes in Nikkei, a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisines. Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura’s menu is primarily raw seafood-based and incorporates the catch of the day. While the food is quite extravagant, the ambiance of the restaurant is warm and friendly.

One of the courses served at Maido, a Nikkei (Peruvian-Japanese fusion) restaurant. Maido is ranked the 10th best restaurant in the world.
An example of Maido’s exquisite presentation. Photo by Cathrine Lindblom Gunasekara on Flickr.

For more traditional Peruvian cuisine, try Astrid & Gastón, Latin America’s 13th best restaurant as well as the only Relais & Châteaux restaurant in Peru. The owners, Gastón Acurio and Astrid Gutsche, are largely responsible for the popularization of the national cuisine. Just twenty years ago, Peruvian cuisine was underappreciated, even by the local populace. Therefore, through their namesake restaurant, they chose to promote traditional Peruvian cuisine and feature flavors representative of Peru’s diverse regions.

Tip: Reservations for Lima’s fine dining restaurants often fill up months in advance, therefore make sure to book early.

6. Malecón

For picturesque coastal views and inspiring sunsets, visit Lima’s Malecón. Six miles of park stretched along an oceanside cliff, it is popular with both locals and tourists alike. While the city’s beaches are mostly rocky, there are several coastal activities that you can do on, above, and below the Malecón.

Picnics, casual strolls, and bicycle rides are ideal ways to enjoy the Malecón’s vibrant green vegetation and ocean views. Also pop by Parque del Amor (“Love Park”) to see the famous Víctor Delfín statue, El Beso (“The Kiss”), and replicas of the mysterious Nazca Lines at María Reiche Park.

Of all of the things to do in Lima, paragliding is undoubtedly the most exhilarating. Soar up to 590 ft (180 m) above the Pacific Ocean and along the coastline on a tandem paragliding session. As a result, thrill-seekers will be rewarded with awe-inspiring views of the city to the east and ocean to the west.

The colorful mosaic tiled walls at  Parque del Amor ("Love Park") with the famous Victor Delfín statue, El Beso ("The Kiss"), and Pacific Ocean in the background.
Parque del Amor’s colorful mosaic walls. Photo by Inca Expert Travel.

Additionally, a short walk from the Malecón are some of Lima’s prime surfing spots. Makaha Beach is suitable for both beginners and advanced surfers. Several surf schools offer on the spot lessons and rentals. Even during Lima’s summer, the water is cold (65–70ºF; 18.3–21.1ºC), so consider renting a wetsuit or bringing your own.

Tip: Two of Lima’s premier luxury hotels are located near the Malecón. For spectacular ocean views, stay at either Belmond Miraflores Park or JW Marriott Hotel Lima.

7. Barranco Contemporary Art Museums

Due to Barranco’s trendy and relaxed vibe, it has unofficially been deemed Lima’s bohemian district. Barranco is defined by its colonial mansions, vast ocean views, and thriving art scene. Therefore, it’s no surprise that it is where several of the most renowned Lima museums are based.

The majority of Peruvian art collections focus on pre-20th century works. Thus, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Lima (MAC Lima) was created in an effort to shift the country’s art scene toward the modern. Three striking glass structures house innovative and avant-garde works from Latin American contemporary artists. Additionally, the museum includes interactive exhibitions that promote critical thinking and cultural understanding.

Located a few blocks from the Barranco main square is the Museo Mario Testino (MATE). Founded by Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino, this privately owned museum showcases a permanent collection of Mr. Testino’s iconic works as well as temporary collections from international artists. The mission of the museum is to magnify Peruvian artists on a global scale while also showcasing international contemporary works for Peruvian audiences.

The sky blue painted exterior of Museo Mario Testino (MATE), located a few blocks from the Barranco main square.
Entrance to Museo Mario Testino (MATE). Photo by Clément Taquet.

Tip: Some of the best boutique hotels in Peru are located in the Barranco district. Hotel B is a Relais & Châteaux luxury boutique hotel that boasts an impressive art collection. Comparatively, Villa Barranco and Casa Republica have eclectic styles that appeal to a variety of travelers.

8. Magic Water Circuit

One of the most family-friendly things to do in Lima, Lima’s Magic Water Circuit (Circuito Mágico del Agua), is a colorful and captivating experience. Thirteen illuminated fountains of various shapes are scattered throughout Lima’s Parque de la Reserva. The circuit even features a play fountain that is a delight for children.

Most famously, the water circuit holds the world’s largest fountain complex in a public park. Measuring 394 ft (120 m) long and over 66 ft (20 m) wide, “Fantasy Fountain” is a dazzling light show synchronized with music and the motion of the water. Additionally, a laser light show projects 3D images of Peru’s most iconic landmarks and treasures onto the fountain.

While the light show is a highlight of the Magic Water Circuit, it is also worthwhile to visit Parque de la Reserva in the daytime. With daylight, you are able to fully appreciate the masterful topiary as well as the ornamental fountains, statues, and Italian-inspired architecture.

"Rainbow Fountain," one of Lima's Magic Water Circuit's thirteen illuminated fountains, lit up at night.
The Magic Water Circuit’s “Rainbow Fountain.” Photo by Michael Wieck.

Tip: Plan a full-day adventure with a visit first to Museo de Arte de Lima (MALI). The MALI is located at the northern end of Parque de la Reserva and chronologically showcases Peruvian artworks spanning the past 3,000 years.

9. Monumental Callao

Once a prosperous port community, Callao is not typically regarded as a tourist destination as it acquired a dangerous reputation during the latter half of the past century. Monumental Callao is a collaboration of local artists, fashion designers, and galleries that is rapidly shifting the narrative of the oceanside community toward its former glory.

Centered in Callao’s historic section, their art movement provides locals with cultural alternatives through the dissemination of Callao’s creativity. The association is based in Casa Ronald, a 120-year old building evocative of Callao’s rich architectural history. Galleries and shops are located on the first floor while local artists-in-residence have studios above. For spectacular ocean and city views, visit the rooftop which is also used for events and celebrations.

A walkway in Callao's historic district with examples of the colorful graffiti created through the Monumental Callao art association.
A graffiti-adorned walkway in Callao’s historic district. Photo by Clément Taquet.

Learn about the neighborhood’s fascinating history and modern life on a tour while also admiring the more than sixty walls that showcase graffiti by local urban artists. The vibrant graffiti harmoniously complements the stoic centuries-old architecture. There are even classes where these artists teach their techniques—it is certainly one of the most unique things to do in Lima.

10. Peruvian Paso Horse Show

A cultural emblem in Peru’s coastal regions, the Peruvian Paso Horse is genetically linked to three breeds of horses introduced to South America by Spanish conquistadors. The Peruvian Paso possesses an unusual ambling four-beat gait, evocative of dancing, and is considered the world’s smoothest riding horse.

Luckily, tourists do not need to venture far in Lima to experience the beautiful dances performed by folk artists in harmony with the gait of the horses. At a dinner show, sample a variety of Peruvian dishes from the buffet while admiring typical dances from Peru’s coastal, Andean, and Amazonian regions performed on stage. The variations of dance, music, and costume are striking and a great representation of Peru’s cultural diversity.

After dinner, the dancing continues, but this time including the Peruvian Paso Horses. In remarkable performances, folk dancers and the horses harmonize to the beats of traditional music. The dancers dress in typical scarlet and white embroidered clothing, representative of the national flag.

For travelers with only one day to explore Lima, visiting some of the sites aforementioned in this article during the day, and attending the Peruvian Paso Horse Show in the evening, is an excellent means of getting to know the city and culture.

A female dancer in typical dress dancers barefoot in front of a Peruvian Paso Horse and male rider.
A traditional Peruvian Paso Horse dance. Photo by Dpaso Perú.

Lima is a coastal metropolis where Peru’s many cultures converge to create a unique and dynamic atmosphere. Every corner of the city is different. Whether you are looking for something exhilarating or low-key, there is a multitude of things to do in Lima that will satisfy your curiosity.

Are you ready to visit Lima, Peru? Contact us to start planning your next trip.

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Written by Liz
Liz found herself in Peru by following her passion for wildlife conservation. In remote parts of the Peruvian montane forests, she also discovered a love for arracacha (her favorite Andean tuber) and spicy rocoto sauce. Now she calls Lima home and explores different areas of Peru at every opportunity.